MEET THE SOUTH’S PEAK PERFORMERS OF 2010

KRISTEN PRICE
tops in the mountains

North Carolina’s central piedmont doesn’t sound like ideal training ground for the U.S. Mountain Running Championships, but it worked just fine for Kristen Price. In June, the Raleigh-based Price traveled to New Hampshire and claimed victory at the Mt. Washington Road Race—a rugged 7.6-mile scramble to the 6,288-foot summit of the famous White Mountain peak. In becoming the nation’s top female mountain runner, the Southern lowlander bested a field from much higher elevations; the rest of the top five hailed from either Colorado or Montana. The win gave Price a spot on the U.S. Mountain Running Team, which took her to the World Mountain Running Championships in Slovenia, where she placed first for Team USA and 12th overall.

The success was an unexpected surprise, especially for Price, who has been plagued by injuries since her college running days at North Carolina State University.

“I didn’t run the race to qualify for the team,” says Price. “I don’t even remember how I found it. I just wanted to do something different.”

Kristen Price

When the 28-year-old found out she made the U.S. Team, she decided she couldn’t pass up an offer to travel to Slovenia for the World Championships this past September. In the rugged Kamnik Alps, she faced a burly but gorgeous course that climbed a steep 3,400 feet in 8.5 kilometers.

It was quite a change from where Price, who spends her days in a lab as a research technician for the USDA, finds time to do incline training—at home on a StairMaster StepMill. Price has a history of stress fractures, so for most of her race preparation she forgoes pounding the pavement in exchange for indoor workouts. While maybe not the best way to get a competitive edge, Price uses the machine for sustained cardio blasts that are definitely working.

“It’s about getting into a rhythm and being able to push through a lot of pain,” she says.

A former NCAA 10,000m champion, Price ran for Nike after graduation and placed 13th in the distance at the 2004 Olympic Trials. When injuries plagued her progression, she headed back to Raleigh for graduate school and has gradually picked up her sport again. In recent years she has also concentrated on the marathon, winning the 2008 Richmond Marathon and 2009 Pittsburgh Marathon—where she posted her 2:38:57 PR. She’s contemplating another run at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, where she had a disappointing showing in 2008.

“I like racing on a whim,” says Price. “Sometimes I’ll jump in a marathon two weeks before the race, and it works out better for me. That’s just the way I roll.”

Ben King

BEN KING
cycling’s next big thing

Four years ago we highlighted Ben King, when he was a young rider from the Virginia Blue Ridge foothills winning races on the national junior circuit. Now 21, King, who hails from North Garden, just south of Charlottesville, spent last year becoming the next great hope in American pro cycling. In September, King won the USA Cycling Professional Road Race National Championship, beating a field that included many of his idols, including Tour de France veterans George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer.

The fresh face’s dramatic performance at the 115-mile race created a huge buzz in the cycling world. King became the youngest person to win the race, and he did it in gutsy fashion.

King came out fast on the tough course, which includes four loops up and around Paris Mountain. Halfway through the race, he had a 15-minute gap on the peloton. But at the end of the near-five-hour slog, the hungry pack that included Leipheimer and former race winner Hincapie closed to within a few minutes of him.

“My coach and I talked about being patient before the race,” says King. “But when I saw the opportunity for the breakaway, I had to go for it. I was getting time checks, and I really had to fight when they started to chase.”

King’s bold move on the front end paid off, and he held on to become the first person under 23 to win the coveted race. It was the successful culmination to a long year of riding around the world. King went to Europe to train with the U.S. National Team in the spring. He came back to the states and won both the criterium and road race at the U-23 National Championships in Oregon in June. Leading up to Greenville, he was coming off his biggest month of training in Europe, where he put in 2,000 miles in the saddle, including some grueling support riding at the epic L ‘Avenir (Tour of the Future) in France.

“This has always been the dream,” says King. “But it wasn’t necessarily a goal, because it felt like such a long shot. I always set small, achievable goals for myself, and I try to take it one step at a time.”

Next year, King will step it up again. He signed a contract to race with Lance Armstrong’s Team RadioShack. He’s eager to learn what his new role will be when he reports to his temporary home in Tuscany, Italy, later this year. In the meantime, he’s staying in shape with daily rides on his favorite old Blue Ridge Parkway routes near home.
“I’m ready to put it all on the line to support the big leaders on the team,” he says.

Adriene Levknecht

ADRIENE LEVKNECHT
queen of the green
In 2009, Adriene Levknecht made waves at the Green River Narrows Race by becoming the first female to run the world famous creek competition’s gnarly course in under five minutes (4:59). This past fall Levknecht exactly matched her time and won the women’s division of the Green for the third year in a row. The notorious Western North Carolina race is one of the most extreme river challenges in the country with huge drops and hairpin turns on epic rapids like Go Left or Die and the infamous Gorilla. For Levknecht—regarded as one of the best female whitewater boaters in the world—the Green is home turf, as the river basically sits in her Flat Rock backyard. Now 22, she is still the youngest woman to ever finish the race, which she did in 2006 at age 18.

At the latest race, boaters contended with frigid temps, as it snowed unseasonably early just north in Asheville. In practice runs Levknecht had been beating her record time, but during the comp her boat bobbled and brushed up against a few too many rocks. Despite the admittedly imperfect run, she held on to her title for the third straight year.

“I made some mistakes and didn’t always put my paddle where I needed to,” Levknecht says. “But I knew as long as I was clean on Gorilla, I would be fine.”

Even while retaining Green glory and also placing second in the Downriver Sprint at the Teva Mountain Games, Levknecht took time to join Kayakers for the Kimberly—a six-week expedition on Australia’s monstrous Fitzroy River to raise awareness for threatening industrialization of the pristine Kimberly Wilderness.

Next year Levknecht will balance more steep creek action with getting her paramedic degree. She’s also ready to get back into play boating and regain a spot on the U.S. Team—motivated by the announcement that the Nantahala Outdoor Center will host the 2013 Freestyle World Championships.

“Having an event like that in my backyard is fueling my fire,” she says. “I’m ready to dial in some new tricks.”

Watch Adriene talk about her record-setting run on the Green River at blueridgeoutdoors.com

JIMMY WEBB
king of the crown
Tennessee bouldering ace Jimmy Webb has won the last eight comps in the Triple Crown Bouldering Series. The annual fall Southern boulder brawl features three big events: Hound Ears in North Carolina, Horse Pens 40 among the sandstone globes of Steele, Ala., and Tennessee’s storied Stone Fort. Webb spends his time sending hard lines around the world, but he always returns home for Dixie’s trifecta, where he has won every comp since Hound Ears 2008—where he came in second by a narrow margin. •